Unless you've boarded up the windows, stopped leaving the house, sealed your mailbox, kicked the tv in, unplugged the phone, dismantled the radio and used your Doc Martins to reboot your Mac/PC back to Scilicon Valley you'll probably have a slight inkling that it's going to be Christmas soon. In album release terms that means a Best Of for just about any band that's released more than one album and a few for some who haven't. It's that time of year when the forces of commerce arise from the darkness (or possibly The Darkness) to spread their evil throughout our homes. So we've decided to revamp the MMR slightly to include more single, movie, tv, and DVD releases over the jump. Let us know what you think, and remember folks, if anyone gives you a best of album for Christmas kick them in the teeth. Unless of course you asked for one in which case ask them to kick you in the teeth.
Right, on with the show and an unconventional, in Londonist music terms, album of the week.
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - Baltic Voices 3 (Harmonia Mundi)
Readers may recall how irritated and disappointed we were about the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir's program at the Proms in August. Though we didn't say it at the time, a large part of our disappointed stemmed from the failure of the concert to live up to the artistic standards set by the ensembles phenomenal CDs of mostly recent choral compositions, Baltic Voices 1 and 2. The third and final installment in this series, Baltic Voices 3, was released a week ago. In the liner notes, the choir's markedly un-Estonian director, Paul Hillier, claims that this disc is the "most varied in content" of the three. He could have added that it is also the most ass-kickingly fantastic.
Choral music suffers from a markedly lower reputation among those who fancy themselves interested in "serious" music — it is, even in Britain, associated with amateur performers and dumbed-down musical style. Even the more light-weight pieces on this disc, however, demand to be taken seriously. The oldest piece on the album, Erik Bergman's Vier Galgenlieder for "speaking choir" from 1960, consists of four short vignettes of shouting, chanting, and overly-theatrical reciting. They sound very... well, very 1960, which isn't necessarily a good thing. But it's entertaining and occasionally quite witty.
By way of contrast, second-oldest piece on the album, Statements from 1969 by Pelle Gudmunsen-Holmgreen (a composer we had never heard of) is also very of-its-time, but displays the kind of cool, conceptual rigor that makes us go weak in the knees — almost entirely consisting of a single musical line, with fragmentary musical material systematically repeated and recombined. The choir performs it with just the right blend of stillness and urgency. Perfect.
It's quite a leap to the newest work on the disc Meditatio by Erkki-Sven Tüür, written in 2003 and recorded here for the first time. (It is wrong how much we enjoy saying his name out loud?) The work is eighteen minutes of ecstatic Christian prose text in Latin set to wailing dissonances and accompanied by a saxophone quartet. Whenever the piece threatens to become a little too rambling, some strong musical idea jerks us back into the work's forceful trajectory. It is solid, dynamic, and dramatic all at once.
Another world premiere recording is Kaija Saariaho's Nuits, Adieux. (We always refer to this composer in writing as "Saaariaaahoo.") She originally wrote this piece for four solo singers and electronics, but then crafted a new version in which she transcribed the electronic sounds for a live chorus. There is no way that this should work, but it does. The hissing, buzzing and gasping of the choir are a mile away from the wit and humor of Bergman's spoken effects — rather than language deformed into music, Saariaho creates the effect of sound coalescing into language before your ears.
Other pieces on the disc are more conventionally "choral" — Górecki's folk song settings, Martinaitis's Alleluia — but performed with no less commitment and subtlety for that. The chorus's sound is something very special, both pitch-perfect and warmly expressive where required. The word "adult" repeatedly springs to mind. And it seems to us as if there is something ineffable about their sound which is recognizable whether they're whispering, singing, or screaming. Do not miss this. (G)
The Mars Volta - Scab Dates: Live (Island)
We initially backed the wrong horse when At The Drive In went belly up, but as much as we enjoyed the punky Sparta's 'Wiretap Scars' it was obvious from early on that The Mars Volta were going to be a lot more interesting and time consuming. Plus we've got a soft spot for blokes with girly singing voices so the combination of complicated musical weirdness with some Rush like vocals was always going to be a bit of a winner. So we were very excited when we got hold of Scab Dates a little while ago and held it up next to our deteriorating vinyl copies of It's Alive by The Ramones and Maiden's Live After Death - the high-water marks of live releases by which everything else is judged. We're happy to report that Scab Dates more than holds its own although for entirely different reasons.
Partly this is due to just how damn obtuse the Volta can be - there's no 'Gabba Gabba Hey Hey' or "Scream for me, Longbeach!" here - in fact the crowd noise is peculiarly absent either buried in the mix or perhaps it's just that the fans were atomised during the opening of Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt and the band just carried on regardless of the fact that sections of the audience were imploding under the weight of so many free jazz musical changes and simply bonkers sci fi/suicide influenced lyrics. Actually that's the only downside to the release in that we like a little 'You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore' inspired banter when listening to something this musically charged.
At times it's hard to recognise this as a live album at all although it is quite different from the earlier releases in terms of rawness. There's also a fair amount of intricate twiddling that you'll either dismiss as navel gazing or constantly loop in an attempt to stimulate your pineal gland. If you haven't come across The Mars Volta before then this isn't the best album to start with, there's only really eight tracks here and the last one clocks in at just over 40 minutes - you may want to try snorting a little before you start looking for a nice fat vein in your genitalia to play with. If you're already a fan then you're not reading this anyway - too busy trying to build the interocitor from the instructions hidden in the lyrics that will open your path to Metaluna no doubt.
The biggest draw for fans is of course the fact that apart from the aforementioned Cerpin Taxt and Concertina from the Tremulant EP the only place to hear any of this up until now was live. The Volta don't feel it necessary to ape their studio releases live or record all their music in the studio... just another reason that they don't just stand out from the crowd, but rather hang in the air above them exactly the same way that bricks don't. Our recommendation is to just buy it - even if you secretly hate it at least people will think you're smart. Or you can show how little you trust us by going over to www dot themarsvolta dot com to stream the album via realplayer
Don't forget that they're also curating 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' All Tomorrow's Parties and will be messing around with the likes of The Fucking Champs and Acid Mothers Temple. Brains will melt. (MA)
Deftones - B-Sides And Rarities (Maverick)
As fans of the band will know, Deftones releases are few and far between, but always worth waiting for. In terms of creative diligence and attention to detail, they have more in common with the likes of Tool than their overblown nu-metal contemporaries Korn and Limp Bizkit. It's no secret that their biggest talent has always been their masterful understanding of dynamics, frontman Chino Moreno's strangled, wraithlike whisper ounterbalancing his tortured scream beautifully. Hence material from the 'Tones can generally be divided roughly into two camps - fragile or frenzied, soft or...erm...shouty - but always with a brooding malevolence lingering just below the surface.
Essentially, this is a stop-gap until the follow-up to 2003's self-titled fourth album appears, but it's certainly no rush-job. In fact, it's a generous two-disc set, comprising a CD of covers, acoustic takes and one previously unreleased artefact (Black Moon, with input from Cypress Hill's B-Real), and a DVD collecting the band's videos. There's also some bonus live material and interview footage, but let's face it, even breakfast cereals come with DVD extras these days, so let's forget about them.
On B-Sides And Rarities, Deftones wear their influences on their sleeves. Eight of these fourteen tracks are covers: some brilliant; some, sadly, not so. Whilst opener Savory is a rather fruitless carbon copy of Jawbox's original, we're treated to a punishing version of Helmet's Sinatra. The Cocteau Twins' Wax And Wane remains as creepy as ever, becoming all the more demented in Chino's deft (sorry) hands, and Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want takes the Deftones as close to up-tempo indie-pop as they're ever likely to get, and to good effect.
But once you've taken in stoner-rock treatments of Sade (No Ordinary Love), The Cure (If Only Tonight We Could Sleep) and Duran Duran (The Chauffeur), the eighties covers begin to grate a little. Thank God, therefore, for the glorious acoustic cuts of Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away) and Change (In The House Of Flies), the two best-known Deftones singles. Haunting and heart-warming in equal measures, they'll provide the perfect soundtrack to the winter blues.
Good value though this compilation may be, the term 'Rarities' is slightly misleading. Any Deftones fans worth their salt will have heard - already own, even - approximately half of the first disc on offer here, while some fan favourites have been overlooked (the cover of Weezer's Say It Ain't So wouldn't have gone amiss). That said, the DVD more than makes up for these oversights.
B-Sides And Rarities is well worth a look on the whole, and if you're a Deftones newbie, this is a great place to start. (RB)
Kate Bush - Aerial, part 1: A Sea of Honey (EMI)
The first thing many of us heard about Kate Bush's new album Aerial was that there was going to be a song about her washing machine. And that that song would include the line "sloshy, sloshy, sloshy". And we were all like, 'we waited twelve years for "sloshy sloshy sloshy"?! Oh no she didn't!'.
What a surprise to discover that the song about the washing machine is, in fact the best track on the disc. Anyway, the washing machine in question is not, in fact, Kate Bush's. The song is sung in the voice of the Mrs. Bartolozzi of the song's title, a housewife for whom the sight of the swirling suds in her front-loader prompts an ecstatic vision of herself being swallowed in the surf, in union with the universe, set to a soaring melody. This 'oceanic' moment takes on sexual and masturbatory overtones, as the waves buffet her body and fish swim inside her. At this point, the purposefully banal advertising jingle "Sloshy, sloshy, sloshy / Get that dirty shirt-ie clean" appears at once a wrenching jolt back to earth, and a counterpoint making the housewife's fantasies of escape that much more poignant. The effect is intensified by the production, which presents the jingle as if from a great distance, in contrast to spare piano-and-voice arrangement of the rest of the track. Beautiful and complicated.
It's not clear to us why King of the Mountain was chosen as the first single, since it is, in our opinion, one of the weaker tracks, and for a very simple reason: we love Kate Bush for her melodies — she has a sense for unexpected, yet unforgettable melodies like no one in pop music this side of Joni Mitchell — but King of the Mountain? Well, it just ain't got no melody at all. Well hardly. Also, a friend of ours pointed out that the song had the faintest whiff of knock-off reggae about it (in his words, "I don't like reggae very much, and I like cod reggae even less".) The cod reggae is also in evidence in Joanni, and How to be Invisible indulges in a bit of cod blues-rock, like Kate Bush trying to be Melissa Etheridge. This is less than compelling.
A Coral Room, on the other hand, inhabits the same piano-heavy sound-world as Mrs. Bartolozzi, and is even more epic in construction. although we're still trying to work out what's going on in the lyrics, in a which her mother appears, singing "little brown jug," and perhaps also holding an actual jug, filled with milk, which then breaks, and spiders crawl out of it. Under the sea. Or something.
At last, the tracks Pi and Bertie recall the sheer wackiness of classic Kate Bush. Yes, in Pi she intones the digits of ?, against a gorgeous, spacious accompaniment. For Bertie she got some viole da gamba together for a proper renaissance dance. (As this is your classical Londonista writing, we feel compelled to point out that the dance in question bears the rhythmic signature of the sixteenth-century Italian canario. Sorry.) Why is she singing with lutes and viols? We do not know. But it is great song, yet another high point on a album with more than its fair share of them. Worth the wait... (G)
Kate Bush - Aerial, part 2: A Sky of Honey (EMI)
...And then there is the other half of the album, a concept album in which the songs flow into one another, and certain elements recur from track to track: birdsong, a child's voice, Rolf Harris. The shape of the narrative sketched out by the nine tracks follows the course of a day: the sun rises, the light changes, it rains, the sun sets, the night passes, the sun returns. In a sense, there is less variety here than in the other half. Shifts in texture and orchestration are less dramatic from track to track, and no individual song is as memorable or satisfying as Bertie, Mrs. Bartolozzi or Pi. But collectively they make an impact, and so (against our better judgement) here's a blow-by-blow:
The story starts out slowly, with a wacky little bird-song Prelude, and then a five-minute Prologue — with a discursive, rambling melody, over a subtle, unchanging electronic drone in the bass. The effect gets increasingly claustrophobic, and in the next track, An Architect's Dream, despite the jaunty latin percussion, the dark, static synth chords maintain the sense that something is being withheld. A glimpse of actual strings hint towards release in The Painter's Link, Rolf Harris's turn as a vocalist (probably best fast-forwarded through). But the full jazz orchestration of Sunset sounds like a moment of revelation, a window suddenly opened in a darkened room.
With that trajectory completed, the final half of the records goes from lightness to a passionate climax. Unfortunately, the track Somewhere in Between is, for us, the least listenable moment on the album, the one that most justifies its amazon.co.uk classification as "Adult Contemporary". Perhaps we're being unfair, but it sounds like a Sade cover. Skip to Nocturn, the eight-and-a-half-minute epic composition that begins with an incantation, and ends with a gospel-inflected cry to heaven, with a laid-back groove in the middle. Superior.
Then the title track of the entire double album. The birdsong re-appears, the electronic drone returns (Rolf Harris does not re-appear), and Ms Bush rocks out in a way she has not allowed herself to do in the album so far. The vocals are reminiscent of the wailing Kate Bush of yesteryear, but these vocals are placed in the back of the mix, and the track repeatedly turns away from the wailing and back towards the static background. It is as if Kate, having found her voice, finally departs from the album altogether, leaving us with only a transfigured version of the stasis of the album's prologue. The album ends with a minute of birdsong: the sun also rises, and the sun goeth down, and hastens to the place where it arose... (G)
Listen to both halves of Aerial streaming here.
Our single of the week is Four Day Hombre's 1000 Bulbs. This Leeds based quintet have been making a bit of a name for themsleves recently, slowly getting under the industry's skin with their forthcoming fan financed debut album, some strong live shows and a few friends on the radio. 1000 Bulbs sees them deliver the killing blow with a soaring slice of uplifting, radio-friendly, guitar-driven indie-pop that should rain down destruction upon all those who currently bask under Coldplay's shadow - you know who you are you cowards. Gentle melody, BIIIIIG chorus, genuine passion, nice video and world domination to follow please, or at least a spot supporting Elbow to start with. In the most unashamed way, we love the damn thing to pieces because there's some days when you need to stop being so cynical about life and revel in the line: tooth by tooth I will build a smile.
FDH hold their single launch party tomorrow night from 8 at the Hoxton Bar And Kitchen, which is as the name suggests, in Hoxton and you're all invited.
And while we're looking at the next generation of Coldplay killers, it's worth mentioning that The Fallout Trust are playing at the Garage tonight. Like if Mr Martin grew a pair of huge hairy cojones and discovered RAWK. (MM)
For those of you who were at last night's Turin Brakes show at the Palladium or those of you who just love Turin Brakes the entire show will be available to download from their site as of this afternoon (so anytime between midday and Tuesday depending on hardware failures etc). Oh and you can while away a few hours on the site while you're waiting for it to download listening to an instrumental version of JackInABox. (MM)
You'll probably only be buying the four disc Live8 DVD if you either want a permanent reminder of Pete Doherty's most shambling baby performance, a permanent reminder of how great The Who and Pink Floyd were, forgot to set video or were one of the trasquillions of viewers who now feels slightly guilty that since that day you've done nothing to reduce your footprint upon this earth or to help reduce the enormous disparity between the people's of the planet. There's footage from almost all the shows, with the emphasis on Wembley, usual extra stuff, and you can always provide your own commmentary to get the fulll on DVD effect (although we'd have loved to have heard Bobo keeping us up to speed with all the backstage gos from the day. And just to reignite an old argument, WOMAD's show at the Eden Project, Africa Calling, is available separately and doesn't seem to be touched here. Don't you just love the spirit of unity for a good cause? (MM)
We've mentioned this before but Channel 4 are celebrating this year's Music Hall OF Fame with two weeks of rock documentaries. It must be a big deal because they kicked off with the biggest sellers of the 21st Century. Wow, and we're only six years in. Turns out to be the biggest sellers in the UK, we probably should have guessed, so at least Katie Meluah and Busted got a look in. It'll also be one of the last music list shows you'll see before the end of the year that doesn't mention the Arctic Monkeys. This week stay in Wednesday from 11pm to catch the World's Greatest Gigs (which might have mentioned the Monkeys had it not been made a while ago) and Jimi Hendrix - the Road To Woodstock. The man who launched a thousand fringes, Paul Weller, the sublime Sigur Ros, Sheryl Crow and Santana all appear on Later on 2 this week and it's the last installment of the awesome Rock School as everyone picks up the pieces from their experience. Yes, it's been cheesy as hell, even quite poor at times and yes, the last show will probably suck because the band are no more and Gene has gone home to make even more money, but damn, didn't they play a fine show supporting Motorhead? (MM)
We'll leave you with on a sad note this week with the news that ex-Shonen Knife and current DMBQ drummer, Mana “China” Nishiura was killed in a car crash earlier this week. She will be greatly missed.